US business leaders are escalating their calls for a tougher political response to gun violence, as US President Donald Trump considers supporting universal background checks for gun buyers.
In a letter sent to US senators on Thursday morning, the heads of 145 US companies urged them to make background checks mandatory and make it harder for convicted felons and domestic abusers to access weapons.
Those signing the letter included sharing economy leaders Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber and Brian Chesky of Airbnb; retail and consumer chief executives such as Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss and Art Peck of Gap; and the heads of the world’s largest advertising and marketing groups.
Venture capital investor Josh Kushner, brother of Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, is also a signatory.
Absent were banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, which have restricted their lending to gun companies after pressure from activists, and the largest US technology companies such as Amazon and Apple.
The Business Roundtable, which speaks for big business in Washington and is chaired by JPMorgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, added its voice on Thursday afternoon, calling on Congress and the Trump administration to enact bipartisan legislation to bolster public safety while protecting gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. It did not elaborate on which measures it wanted to see, however.
The letter CEOs sent to members of the Republican-controlled Senate frames gun violence as a preventable public health crisis in which chief executives are siding with public opinion.
“We have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” the signatories wrote. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable, and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.”
It comes the week after Walmart called on Congress to enact “common sense measures” such as updating background check legislation and enacting “red flag” laws that allow judges to remove guns from people determined to be a risk to themselves or to others. Both measures command bipartisan support from large majorities of voters.
In February, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives passed a bill that would require universal background checks for people buying guns. But the bipartisan legislation has stalled in the Senate, after Mr Trump threatened to veto the proposal.
Democratic congressional leaders have ramped up pressure on the Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell since a spate of mass shootings in places including El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the summer. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, said earlier this week that Mr McConnell and the Republicans “will have hell to pay” if they fail to act.
Mr McConnell has maintained that he will only debate legislation that is backed by the president. On Tuesday, following a meeting at the White House, Mr McConnell said the administration was “working on coming up with a proposal that the president will sign”, adding: “Until that happens, all of this is theatrics.”
Mr Trump has sent mixed messages on gun safety, at various times voicing both support for and opposition to background checks, among other measures.
The president spoke over the phone with senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia; Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut; and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, about background checks on Wednesday. Mr Murphy told reporters after the call that the White House could have “some answers” on gun safety before the end of the week, but added: “Maybe that timeline will slip”.
Public polling shows growing public support for chief executives who speak out on a polarising topic many long sought to avoid.
Research from Edelman, the public relations agency that was among those signing Thursday’s letter, found last week that 45 per cent of Americans say they are more likely to buy from a company whose chief executives have taken a public stand on gun issues, with only 11 per cent saying they were less likely to buy.
The campaign follows similar interventions by sections of the business community on social and political issues from abortion access to the rights of transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice.